Great article at CNN on a fitness trainer who gained 70 pounds and lost it in one year.
The part that really jumped out at me was how fast someone can go from the pinnacle of fitness to about my (current) size:
He gave up the gym and started consuming junk food, fast food and soda. In just six months, he went from 193 pounds with a 34-inch waist to 265 pounds with a 48-inch waist.
Of course he wrote a book too.
Debt is Slavery: and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money, by Michael Mihalik. This book is short, to the point, and packed with lots of great advice. I’ve read it three times and I would put this in my top five personal finance books, possibly at number one. I think for someone just getting started with figuring out their debt and finances this is probably the first book to read. It’s short enough to get through very quickly and find some immediate advice and inspiration to get your finances under control.
The book offers this definition of slavery: “The state of being bound in servitude as an instrument of labor” [pg. 23]. Do you ever wake up in the morning and not want to go to work that day? Do you go anyway? Do you go because you really love your job that much or do you go because you owe money to someone (probably many people) and even though you may have a choice of how you’ll earn your money, ultimately you have no choice but to go to work and get that money. Lately, I’ve been dreading Monday mornings as early as Saturday night. I feel trapped and bound to this service by my debts.
“Too many people hate their jobs but are afraid to leave, because they wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgage, credit card bills, car loans, or boat loans. Debt can turn a free, happy person into a bitter human being. Debt can turn you into a slave.” [pg 25].
It’s possible for debt to be good, but debt is still slavery. A mortgage can usually be thought of as good debt, but you still must make sure you can afford the mortgage you are signing up for.
“The word ‘mortgage’ is derived from the Latin word ‘mort,’ which means ‘death’, and the Germanic word ‘gage’, which means ‘pledge’. So ‘mortgage’ means ‘death pledge’. What does that tell you?” [pg 30]
When we spend money, we are really trading our time for the things we buy. We make this even worse when we go into debt to buy things. We are now committing our time in the future to work to earn money to pay for the things we bought in the past. This becomes even more painful if you don’t like your job.
‘Stuff’ ads busywork and stress to our lives. So much stuff we buy we don’t even need. Eliminating unwanted stuff from our lives is an important part of getting control of our finances and getting out of debt.
Experiences are more valuable than stuff. Don’t find happiness only in buying things. You won’t look back on your life when you’re older and fondly remember the stuff you accumulated.
It will be easier to stop buying stuff if we avoid advertising and understand that we are constantly being marketed to and a lot of money is being spent to convince us to buy things.
Make a goal of saving 50% of your income. If you do this, you would have the ability to take a month off from work for every month you work (assuming you’re earning an income from a job and not passive sources). Don’t spend more money when you get a raise. If you keep your expenses the same as before, you can increase your savings exponentially, even as your income may not be increasing at such a high rate.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, it buys freedom. This is my greatest motivator for making more money and getting out of debt right now. I want to be free again.
This book is packed with solid advice, expertly fit into a short, easy to read format. If you’re just getting started with fixing a financial mess in your life, I would buy this book immediately. If you need a little extra motivation and a better understanding of the mistakes of the ‘normal’ American way when it comes to money and work, read this book. I had planned to give away my copy after reading it, but I decided this is one I want to keep on my bookshelf so I have it available to read again when I see bad habits creeping back into my life.
My financial turnaround began when I realized I was spending more than I earned each and every month. That’s pretty much the only way you can pile up more than $25,000 of credit card debt in a year (that’s about the rate I was going). For me, it came down to stupidity and lack of attention really.
If that sounds like you right now, here are four things you can do TODAY to stop the bleeding and begin to gain control of your financial life.
Stop using credit cards – Those little plastic jerks are ruining your life and you know it. Chop ’em up! They aren’t cool, you don’t NEED them, and what good have they done for you so far? Life is possible without credit cards. I haven’t had one for more than a year now and I never miss them.
Make a budget – Honestly, making a budget is like getting a raise. It’s amazing what a little detail work can do for your finances. It’s hard work though. It takes time and practice to successfully budget. Don’t give up after your first try and don’t expect to get it right in the beginning. Just trust that it will work and give it a chance. This step alone will dramatically change your financial life.
Sell some of the stuff you bought that you knew couldn’t afford anyway – Video games, DVDs, golf clubs, whatever unnecessary junk you bought that you don’t need. Face it, almost nothing that we buy is truly a NEED. Be ruthless. Start listing some stuff on Craigslist or Ebay. It can be a pain, but consider the hassle to be part of your therapy. This will put some cash in your pocket quickly and give you some small victories on the road to turning your cash flow positive again.
Create more income – This could be overtime at your current job, finding a part-time job, or my personal favorite- finding some freelance work of some kind. Anything that allows you to use your existing skills to provide a valuable service for someone is your best bet for some quick side money. This is the best choice because you’ll start to get a taste of how to create your own path to income in your life.
These are just a few tips and there is more you can do, but you have to start somewhere and this is as good a start as any. You need to dedicate extra time to working right now, but don’t neglect education. Read some blogs, and read some books. Start talking to your friends and see if any of them are trying to change their financial lives too (you might be surprised, this is more common than you probably think). Try listening to the free Dave Ramsey Show podcast (or his radio show if it’s on in your area). The podcast is only 40 minutes long, it’s free, and it’s a great way to get a daily boost of inspiration and keep fighting the battle with debt.
Even if you can only do one thing today, it’s a start (if I had to pick one, I’d start with budgeting). The most important part is realizing there is a problem and starting to take action as soon as possible. Once you get the ball rolling, this will get easier. Good luck!
J.D. at Get Rich Slowly recently published an interesting article on lazy money mistakes. I’ve made several of the lazy money mistakes he writes about and one in particular just about a month ago that really bugs me. I foolishly sent in a student loan payment late and lost a 1% interest rate reduction.
There is no way to explain this other than pure stupidity and laziness. I had the money in my checking account to make the payment early. I had a reminder set on my computer, as I do for all of my bills. All I had to do was write a check, put it in an envelope, and mail it. I had never been late with a payment before (as evidenced by the interest rate reduction I suppose), but life just got busy and I lost focus on my finances long enough to miss this payment. That cost me a small late fee and probably a fair amount of money in extra interest over the life of the loan.
It seemed that I had everything in place to keep making this payment on time, yet I still failed. Apparently, automation really is one of the most important things you can do to manage your money well. David Bach writes about this in-depth in the The Automatic Millionaire.
I have to admit that I never really fully bought into the importance of automation before, but I think I’m sold on it now. Of course, this particular student loan company doesn’t offer automatic payments and I have to mail in a payment coupon along with a paper check. When automation isn’t an option, I guess you have to be extra careful to make payments early and hope that the non-automated business will get caught up with technology some day. A secondary reminder system would probably have helped too. As would have writing out the checks and stuffing the envelopes ahead of time so that all I had to do was toss it in the mailbox. Oh well, nothing to do now but chalk another one up to stupid tax and move on.
What about you? Do you have any lazy money mistakes or tips for preventing them in the first place?